Blog dedicated to reporting on Mexican drug cartels
on the border line between the US and Mexico

Monday, December 6, 2010

Mexican immigrants fear annual Holiday visit

Sacramento State student Alex Rodriguez is going to Mexico for Christmas. But, he says, "My mom doesn't want me to drive down there. My uncle was shot to death at 11 a.m. at a car wash in Choix, Sinaloa, in August. My mom said if you're in the business of drugs, that's your destiny." (RENEE C. BYER/MCCLATCHY-TRIBUNE)


The annual Mexican Christmas pilgrimage, traditionally a joyous journey culminating in pozole stew and Nativity re-enactments, is now fraught with fear and foreboding.

About a million immigrants are expected to return to Mexico this month from the U.S. to share the holidays with relatives they left behind.

Most are driving. And many, including Sacramento State freshman Alex Rodriguez, wonder whether they'll make it to Christmas dinner without being robbed, shot or kidnapped.

"My mom doesn't want me to drive down there," said Rodriguez, 18, who was born in Mexico and raised in California. "My uncle was shot to death at 11 a.m. at a car wash in Choix, Sinaloa, in August. My mom said if you're in the business of drugs, that's your destiny."

But the menace reaches beyond the drug cartels. The violence that has claimed more than 28,000 lives in the last four years has spread to Mexico's highways, where bandits, many posing as police, have robbed cars with U.S. plates.

It also has seeped into the lives of immigrants to the U.S. and their families. Several say their relatives have received phone calls threatening to kidnap their American cousins for ransom.

And nearly everyone has heard stories of cars hijacked or stopped unless the drivers pay bribes.

The Mexican government recognizes the challenges and has created a network of government escorts and way stations to help guide and protect passengers traveling home for the holiday season.

"Nearly everyone's somehow affected by the fight against drug trafficking and organized crime; they're trying to co-opt our institutions and eroding our freedoms by intimidation," said Carlos Gonzalez Gutierrez, Sacramento's Mexican consul general.

"We are urging people not to drive at night, to use federal highways as much as possible instead of local roads and not to travel with cash; people can use credit cards on federal toll roads."

In some parts of Mexico, the drug-related violence now disrupts daily life. Monthly pension checks are delivered by armed guards in Sonora and Chihuahua. South of the Arizona and Texas borders, schools close early and some ranchers and farmers have abandoned their land. Many local police officers not on the take have quit and fled because it's not worth the risk to stay.

For 24 years, Marco Rodriguez, president of Sacramento's Mexican Cultural Center, has been driving 2,000 miles to his hometown in San Luis Potosi for Christmas.

"I love to drive," he said. But this year, his family will fly because "you don't want to potentially endanger your family on the highways.

"When we fly, we can only bring two pieces of luggage," he said. "But when people drive, you see cars loaded with TVs, dishwashers, washing machines.

"It's an incredible thrill and joy to go back and see all our relatives who have never been over here, along with family from North Carolina, Texas and Florida. We all migrate back to our hometown."

But fewer people are making the trek back to his town, Rodriguez said. "Last Christmas, only 50% went back and didn't come with as many presents."

The Mexican government acknowledges vehicles driving into the country laden with goods are often targeted. Last month, a convoy of three trucks from Merced carrying clothes, furniture and electronics to Michoacan was ambushed in Sinaloa.

Several of Alex Rodriguez's classmates in Sacramento State's College Assistance Migrant Program for children of farmworkers also are worried.

"You can't enjoy a vacation. I don't even know if I'm going to make it to my little town in Michoacan," said Anabel Ruiz, 21.

"My parents won't let me go out anymore at night," said Anakarina Pimentel, 22. "Where my sister lives in Michoacan, there's fighting. They've found dead bodies, and people will call us and say, 'I know you live in the U.S.' Some people are actually paying protection money every month."


  1. The best thing they can do is forget everything about mexico, start living in US and don't travel to there, unless you want to be a victim.


  3. I can totally relate to this. My mother goes back a few times a year and nowadays I fear for her safety each time she does. I'm worried for myself as well, if I go down there with my girlfriend I'll be looking over my shoulder and watching our drinks everywhere we go. Not trying to sound paranoid, but quite frankly I feel for this kid.

  4. Right now getting shot to death is not only exclusive for people in the business of drugs , it's a fear that all common citizen in Mexico live with.. This kid is probably stupid or he doesnt really know how critical the situation is in Mexico..

  5. Believe it or not, my father has an apple orchard in between Patos and Santiago, DGO. He has to go every August for the sale of his apples. He drove this past August through Reynosa, Monterey, Torreon, then Durango. He didn't see anything unusual and nothing happened to him, he ws there 2 weeks, thank God, but he said it was all overexaggerated. He is going this Xmas as well.

  6. i got shot at accident in sinaloa the bullet hit my trunk.

  7. my parents went in september, they went through nuevo laredo, nuevo leon, and saltillo, and am goin with them in 2 weeks. i plan on recording vids when i go through nuevo laredo and nuevo leon. hope everything goes fine. we been goin every year for like 17 years straight, and everything seems normal havent seen anything out of the ordinary. knock on wood.

  8. Yes, some places are really dangerous right now and folk are out of luck if they want a safe visit, yet many other places are perhaps still worth the rather small risk to visit with close family.

    My family will go to Monterrey for Christmas yet will stay out of two other locales closer in to the Border. It's a shame really that people have to play with their lives in this manner with this sort of calculated risk though.

    It's kind of like entering into the sicko American health lack of care System. You take your chances there, too. Some lose big.


  9. the odds are against him? really? why don't u stop reading the news and take a visit down there. i was in sinaloa in december for 3 weeks plus i was there in june and october and going december again. if u go just don't act dumb and tough with ppl and u should be ok. sure, it is dangerous but i think if u love something then this shouldnt stop u.

  10. I have a question. Recently I crossed over to Progresso to enjoy a bit of early holiday shopping. All was quiet. Really quiet. There were few tourists out and about early on a Saturday afternoon. The sidewalks were clear, and stores were conducting sparse business. Still, children roamed about with flowers for sale, and men offered up cheap jewelry and dentistry. My question is this: Why has Progresso seemingly been spared the torment other border towns have received?

  11. it's hilarious how Ernest1 always finds a way to bash America. if you hate it so much, why don't you move to mexico, chump.

  12. People are stupid! Always think it will happen to others and not them!
    I was the same way until I had my car shot numerous times and was chased and kidnapped by the cartel La Familia!
    I am a woman so they somewhere in their sick mind decided to let me live. If there had been a man in the car he would not have had a chance.
    Shit doesn't happen until it happens then what!!?? Shock of your life and you the odds are you won't survive!

  13. There was a shootout in progresso but not a big one like other parents "gringos" retired in queretaro and we go there in our vehicles all the time and have no problems. But the summer before last we took a wrong turn in matamoros and had to give some shady cops a nasty cuota. Sinc then we crossed our fingers until we get pass ciudad mante. I'm american but I grew up in mexico and this bullshit is breaking our hearts. I wander how long the army will be doing the holiday escorts? Does anyone know?

  14. I go to central northern Jalisco twice a year, April was the last time I was out there. I've never had any close calls, thank the good lord. I drive an older model pick up out there with Mexican plates, dress very modest,use a throw away prepaid cell phone (leave the smart phone at your home or hotel) and hide any cash I might have on me very well. I became a dual citizen and got a drivers license in Mexico to avoid the mordidas and as of last year will not drive into Mexico with American plates as added safety, I'll take a bus instead. My spanish is very fluent and no one suspects I am American. I go as far as buying sneakers locally and wear them to avoid being singled out in the bigger towns.

  15. Ah, Progreso (I assume you are talking about Nuevo Progreso near Reynosa, not that it isn't correct to say Progreso, just wanted to clarify in case there is another Progreso I don't know about)....

    One of my great uncles Arturo Arredondo opened the very first restaurant in Nuevo Progreso, called Arturo's, in the 1950s. Its still there. Maybe you know the place? The family story goes that at some point in the 50s, the Pope granted permission to Mexico to eat meat on Fridays because they were so poor that they had to eat whatever was available. My entrepreneurial uncle realized that there would be tons of gringo Catholics who would want to eat meat on Fridays too. He opened a big, clean restaurant to appeal to them. They could drink the water and, most importantly, they could eat all the meat they wanted without going to hell because, technically, they were on Mexican soil.

    Anyway, about your question...I have another great uncle who is 88 years old and has a ranch outside Progreso. I could write pages about how the whole thing occurred, but I'll try to keep it short.

    Basically, over a year ago, about ten men wielding assault weapons knocked his flimsy gate down and drove onto his ranch in the middle of the night. They started beating on his door and on his windows. I don't think he ever opened the door nor did they break in that night, but they told him that he needed to leave immediately because it wasn't going to be safe there. They told him that some cartel members were going to arrive in a few days and would kill him. Said they knew this would happen without problems because the locals and federals were already working for this new cartel.

    My uncle is in his late 80s, but he's very sharp and quite stubborn and he knew these guys wanted him off the land themselves. He told them to go to hell and that he was staying. As far as help from Mexican authorities, I have heard conflicting stories about exactly who he talked to, but whoever it was, they did nothing to help. They never showed up when he called for help on any of the following nights when these guys showed up. On those visits they began to demand money for protecting him. At some point they shot up a storage building on his property while he was on the phone with his daughter who lives in McAllen.

    She flipped out and her sons (his grandsons) drove over and practically carried him out to the car. He was too old to stay there alone and she nor his other children and grandchildren were going to accept his "I want to die on my land" claim. Poor man.

  16. As far as what is happening in Progreso now, this is what I have been told. Apparently cartel members had been extorting and kidnapping local business owners for quite a while. Very soon after my great uncle left there was some kind of big shootout and some people died. At some point the navy showed up.

    Progreso only has about 1500 people, mind you. Remember that Ciudad Mier had about 6,000. Anyway, what the navy has done is placed checkpoints on every route coming from Mexico. You have the US border on the north and military blockades on the east, south and west. Protected in the center is the relatively lucrative tourist district with its dentists and pharmacies and trinkets and gringo friendly restaurants (like my Arturo's...nothing wrong with that).

    It may be worth protecting financially speaking, but that explanation doesn't really hold water considering how small their revenue is compared to that of other cities that have been brought to their knees.

    I think the main reason it seems peaceful is its small enough to be contained and controlled. Beyond those military blockades, however, its a different story. According to my cousins who have returned to their grandfather's ranch a few times, the outer area is extremely unprotected, mostly abandoned, all the neighboring ranches are empty, my uncle's humble place has been completely ransacked and there are bullet holes in many of the buildings and the signs that they pass.

    I wonder how long the center of Progreso can be kept safe. It doesn't seem sustainable, but I hope I'm wrong.

  17. In a couple more years I will perhaps... I'm tired of living with so many dopes surrounding me.

    'it's hilarious how Ernest1 always finds a way to bash America. if you hate it so much, why don't you move to mexico, chump.'

    And I think I have a certain right to 'bash' the US medical delivery system here in the US since I have worked in it for the last 3 decades of my life. If you weren't so totally clueless, you'd 'bash' it, too, Mr. Anonymous. You probably don't even have 'medical coverage', and if you do, it might be full of more holes than even your head seems to be. Honestly, you pseudo patriots will defend almost each and every defect found in the US culture.


  18. Thank you, Amelia. Your story is interesting but so sad, that poor old man! It is amazing what fortitude the elderly have, when we sometimes consider them feeble! I am quite familiar with Arturo's and have been dining there since I was a little girl. The waiters in their fine attire and the dance floor always gave Arturo's an air of elegance. With regard to Progreso (got it right this time!)generally, it seemed rather apparent that something,such as extortion, must be afoot. However, I felt the immediate area of the few blocks closest to the bridge was safe enough for a jaunt. There were some unusual men I have never before noticed simply standing around on the corners and mid-block. They were wearing business clothes, quite professional, and stern faces. I thought them odd, and rather out of place, but chalked it up to an active imagination. I am currently not afraid of a return visit, but who knows for how long. Again, thank you for your valuable information.

  19. @ the man who hates his own country

    30 years of you is probably why the system is fucked...laughing!!!!

    so...just what did you do all those years you were in central and south America

  20. @ i hate my country right or wrong

    i would support the chinese taking over America if they would promise to silence you ....laughing...

  21. I agree with you about the health care system in U.S being kind of fucked up Ernest1, but how the fuck does that pertain to this article, haha. I'm not defending it, I just find it retarded that you talk all this shit about America yet you live here. I don't agree with everything the US does, but I would rather live here than anywhere else. So, like I said, if you don't like it so much, why don't you do something about it, or get the fuck on.
    I've never had to worry about my health care coverage either, so suck it.

  22. All you goobers talking about how bad our healthcare system is in the US have never needed medical attention in Mexico... so basically... shut your mouths.

  23. Does anyone have information on the Galleria Store owner being kidnapped and there new grand hall taken away from them? It's the big first class looking building six or seven blocks down on the right.There's a phone number on it. I suppose it's the cartels number,since they toke it from them.Also, i heard Chuy that owns the Red Snapper was kidnapped?

  24. I'm talking about Progreso.

  25. My family lives in Sinaloa and we go three times a year. I feel safer in Mazatlan than Los Angeles. Culiacan and the north is sketchy at times, but THOUSANDS of people travel daily with no issues. I will be there for two weeks at Christmas.

    Be smart, and you'll be fine. However, random crime happens everywhere. Don't put yourself in a bad position.

    What so many of you do not realize is that by not going to Mexico for vacation or to see family you are only making the problem worse. How? Instead of eeking out an honest living, some will turn to the darkside. I've seen it in my own family in TJ...she ended up dead by hanging out with the wrong people.

  26. Would it be possible to start a blog about Progreso on here? simaliar to
    Also, another where people could tell about things that have happened to them and family?
    All related to the drug war.

  27. And Miers,I for one want to know what happened to the people that were kidnapped when the ten homes were burned.

  28. Was Columbia this bad even at the height of their Drug Wars ? I don't think even they came close to the Brutality and Absolute Insanity these Animals Display.Nothing more than Evil Personified.

  29. @9:59
    Telling E1 to in essence "like it or leave it" goes against the foundation of our constitution.
    If you are a proud American you embrace the freedoms we have including freedom of speech & press..something Mexico does not have in practice.

    Now you are treading on my turf, even with your 3 decades exp in the medical field. -gosh I have to change my vision of you again! I erased Assange and switched to a young Ricardo Montalban with a scowl, not I have to make you order with many winkles from all those 5+ deacdes of frowns-

    It is a myth that one without insurance have not been able to access medical care. You know it and I REALLY KNOW THIS. in fact any anchor baby mama knows this and I do not blame them for acessing the resource. US Medical care and R&R is evied and is collectively the best. It is why my friends from Asis and Canada both travel to the states to access the very best.

    Anyone can go into an emergency room or a university hospital and recive medical care if they cannot afford it. that is a fact.

    ok go for it..

  30. 'Buela, you are just dead wrong here.

    'Anyone can go into an emergency room or a university hospital and recive medical care if they cannot afford it. that is a fact. ok go for it..'

    If you are dying of a stroke or heart attack they will spend tens of thousands on you at the Emergency room PERHAPS, but trying to receive care from worsening chronic conditions that would keep you from dying later on.... Well that's just impossible to get. You got to have money, money, money, and out the yin yang, too, to get the medical care you really need in the US.

    And to the anonymoe who said that the Mexican system sucks, too.... I totally agree.

    I brought this subject into the debate because dangers have to be put into perspective. Most Mexicans in the US are in more danger dying in a US hospital without receiving proper care there, than in being murdered during a Christmas visit back home by Zetas.


  31. @ E1

    Nope! Not wrong. But you are correct not al medical institutions take chronically ill patients. If they rec federal funds they must. and that is why ER rooms are used for chronic conditions and thus drains resources and some forced to closed. This is true. But also each state has its own programs aside from medical, there are two programs that will step in and fund medical. I know this as I have helped many people attain this. Can't blame the people for a flawed system, don't throw rocks at those who benefit throw rocks at the system that remains flawed. I have an answer to this but not a forum to share it.

    I am always thinking of solutions, and I will not remain closed mouth to someone promoting twisted facts and untruths..

  32. You are wrong again, "Buela. Hundreds of millions in the US are receiving no care or very substandard care for chronic medical conditions, including dental conditions. This includes for those without papers most certainly, and that makes living in the US for all more deadly than the cartels. You just don't get it though, because you want to pretend to see the roses all supposedly here in the US above all other countries....NOT. This substandard medical system kills, Lady 'Buela. The statistics confirm that though you are seemingly ignorant of them..

    @ E1 Nope! Not wrong. But you are correct not al medical institutions take chronically ill patients. If they rec federal funds they must. and that is why ER rooms are used for chronic conditions and thus drains resources and some forced to closed. This is true.

    You have no solutions to anything that I can see, though you demand that I come up with some sort of perfect solution to child killers if in fact that kid is such??? (Remember, too. He has not been tried yet anywhere except in the media. Leap you will though...)


  33. "Anchor baby momma" <--- how rude! In that case every woman in this country had anchor babies...funny how just because it happened so long ago or a couple generations ago, some people believe they were never foreign immigrants to this country and everyone else is intruding .

    If u don't have insurance, they'll give you a diagnosis but no treatment.

  34. @ anonymous dec 12 9: 43

    read the entire post dumb ass. it says she does not blame them. it is the system.

    you are double wrong you can not be denied treatment. mexicans a long the border know this and go into laredo, el paso, tucson etc to have babies and see doctors. it happens with cardiac and whatever. if you know how there is a way, it happens all the time, i personally know many that have done and continue to do this. I would do the same in their position.

    anchor baby is the expression used by the media and is the coined phrase. wake up from your nap...yes i know rude, as intended...a little late in the response


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